A Treasure Trove of Accountancy's Past: The AICPA Library Forms the Core of an Accounting Collection at the University of Mississippi Unparalleled in the World

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Where else would you find a complete set of back issues of the journal The Management Accountant of India? Or photos of the 1907 staff baseball team of Haskins & Sells, a predecessor firm of Deloitte & Touche? Or you might want to go back to where it all started and inspect an original volume of Luca Pacioli's Summa de Arithmetica, printed in 1494 and considered the first published description of double-entry bookkeeping.

You could do it all at the 126,000-volume library that the AICPA donated to the University of Mississippi in 2001. The collection forms the core of the National Library of the Accounting Profession at Ole Miss, the world's largest accounting library.

"It's a source of great pride for the university and the state of Mississippi," said James W Davis, a professor of the E.H. Patterson School of Accountancy at Ole Miss. Davis was dean of the school when the AICPA made the donation and when, a month later, 14 tractor-trailer loads began arriving from New York and New Jersey with the collection.

Upward of 5,000 large cardboard boxes held the books, pamphlets and other materials that swelled the university's library by 10% and made its already distinguished holdings in accounting history the foremost English-language library of accountancy. "Basically, it's everything published [on accounting] in the 20th century in English, anywhere in the world," said Dale Flesher, a professor of accounting in the Patterson School at Ole Miss. Flesher, who also played a major role in bringing the AICPA collection to Ole Miss, frequently uses it in his historical research (see "Eight Special Women in Accounting" accompanying this article) and displays an infectious enthusiasm for the collection's rarities and curiosities.

"We're always surprised at how much of the material in the collection is unique," said Royce Kurtz, reference librarian and professor of library science at Ole Miss, who has led the effort to catalog the collection and digitize parts of it. Looking back six years over the mammoth undertaking, "I'm still amazed," Kurtz said, even though it's not entirely finished. "We're down to the last 50 or 60 boxes now," he said.

Those boxes are still yielding nuggets of accounting's past, such as 50-year-old employee directories of major accounting firms. In a snug back room recently, Kurtz reached into one box where pamphlets awaited digital scanning. Out came a 1932 booklet, Uniform System of Accounts for Dried Fruit Cost Accounting. Digging deeper, he found the firm tax return from 1928 of Frank Broaker, holder of what is believed to be the first CPA license, issued in New York in 1896.

"There are a lot of little treasures like this in the library," Kurtz said. A poster nearby lists the accounting library's holdings: 35,000 books, 94,000 pamphlets, 1,300 periodical titles, 900 journal subscriptions, 191 rare books and more than 500 photographs.

A PRIORITY FROM THE START

The collection's size attests to the priority early organizers of the AICPA and its predecessor organization, the American Association of Public Accountants, placed on building and maintaining a repository of accounting literature. Directors of the earlier organization passed a resolution in 1896 to seek headquarters space in New York City "for the purpose of acquiring a library and for general purposes." By 1918 it had a librarian, an endowment and 2,000 books and pamphlets. The library operated as a research resource to accountants, with an emphasis on serving the smaller accounting firms, since larger firms had their own libraries. The following year, a library catalog was published and mailed free to members, the beginning of regular updates of a printed index that grew with the library's holdings through the years. It became a computerized database starting in 1977. By 1955, when head librarian Miriam Donnelly retired (see accompanying article "Eight Special Women in Accounting"), the four-person library staff made 9,574 book loans that fiscal year and answered nearly 19,000 inquiries assisting more than 11,500 visitors. …